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How the Gaza war is evolving: Fighting has gone down

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The level of fighting in Gaza is down sharply. Israel has withdrawn most of its troops. Hamas has suffered heavy losses. Months of high-intensity battles have now given way to a low-intensity conflict, and the efforts to reach a cease-fire continue. For more on how this war is evolving, NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre is here in the studio. Hey, Greg.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Has the war in Gaza entered a new stage right now?

MYRE: Yeah, it really seems that way. And this is according to a lot of people who are analyzing the Israel-Hamas war very closely. We saw months of the most intense fighting ever between Israelis and Palestinians. But now it does seem to be in this new phase, at a much lower level overall, for several reasons. Israel has taken control of most of Gaza. It just doesn't need a huge force there right now. Hamas has been hard hit. It has limited firepower left. Also, Israel is facing intense pressure from even its closest ally, the U.S., to stop killing civilians and to ease the humanitarian crisis. Now, I spoke about this with Hussein Ibish. He's an analyst at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.

HUSSEIN IBISH: We've entered into a very low-intensity phase, but there's not that much more for the full might of the Israeli conventional military to do. As for Hamas, they still can function as a fighting force, but it's a much weaker fighting force than it used to be. Both sides, I think, are kind of at the end of what they figure they can do in terms of confronting each other in a big way.

SHAPIRO: But, Greg, what about the talk we've heard for weeks from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about a possible ground invasion of Rafah, the city at the southern end of Gaza. Is that off the table?

MYRE: Well, we can't go that far. Netanyahu actually said this week there is a date for the Rafah invasion, but he didn't provide it. But his statement really goes against the developments we're seeing on the ground. Israel announced a few days ago it had withdrawn troops from the southern city of Khan Younis. It's the latest in a series of troop drawdowns. And Israel isn't providing numbers. But military analysts say Israel has just one brigade, a couple thousand troops, in Gaza right now, down from tens of thousands at the peak. So by all appearances, more than 90% of the Israeli forces have left Gaza, and the military is just not in a position for a major ground operation in Rafah or anywhere else in Gaza right now.

SHAPIRO: So what are the chances that we could see a genuine cease-fire, whether formal or informal, sometime soon?

MYRE: So it's possible, but far from certain. The Israeli troops are still in a buffer zone, just hugging the border with Israel. And they're also along this belt that cuts across the middle of Gaza, dividing it into north and south. This is a scaled back presence designed to maintain control, though small-scale operations are always possible. And today, Israel did carry out a high-profile airstrike. It bombed a car, killed three adult sons and four grandsons of a top Hamas leader, Ismail Haniyeh, who lives in exile in Qatar. So they're still fighting. The cease-fire talks have been taking place for weeks, but there's still no sign of an imminent deal. I spoke with Chuck Freilich, who's a former deputy national security adviser in Israel.

CHUCK FREILICH: I don't know that either side wants a formal cease-fire at the moment. I think Hamas has an interest to perpetuate this for as long as they can. Things are going quite well from their perspective. Netanyahu may have a political interest in keeping things going for a while because it prevents early elections from being held.

MYRE: And just to add to that, he thinks Hamas wants to keep the Israeli military bogged down in Gaza. An unresolved war does create big problems for Israel. And with Netanyahu, he's unpopular among Israelis. If the fighting stops, Israel could hold an election that he could lose.

SHAPIRO: Does less fighting mean more aid to people in Gaza?

MYRE: Well, it's certainly seeming that way. We had more than 400 aid trucks into Gaza Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday this week. That's by far the largest aid delivery since the fighting began six months ago. Israel is clearly responding to President Biden's phone call last week when he told Netanyahu the military must allow more food aid in. So we're talking just a few days here, but it's a big change from what we've been seeing.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Greg Myre. Thank you.

MYRE: Sure thing, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Greg Myre
Greg Myre is a national security correspondent with a focus on the intelligence community, a position that follows his many years as a foreign correspondent covering conflicts around the globe.